Zdenek Stybar has nothing left to prove except a major victory, and he will enter this year’s spring classics as a protected leader on the powerful Etixx – Quick-Step team.
Now in his sixth year with the Belgian classics superteam, Stybar insists he isn’t worried about team politics or egos getting in the way on a squad packed with talent, including Tom Boonen, Niki Terpstra, Matteo Trentin, Stijn Vandenbergh, and even Tony Martin.
The former world cyclocross champion says the road puts everyone in their place very quickly.
“The strongest rider will be the leader,” Stybar told VeloNews. “We are all professionals. We respect each other, and we all know the most important thing is that the team wins.”
Etixx has proven it can work together as a unit despite its bounty of classics stars that could prove troublesome on other teams. In 2014, Terpstra attacked out of a group that included Boonen and Stybar to win Paris-Roubaix. Neither budged to chase down their teammate even though both might well have won.
“We know how to work together to achieve the best result. We all want to win, but the team comes first,” Stybar said. “Of course, I want to win, and I believe I can. I am working for that.”
Stybar has certainly been knocking on the door of a major win, especially at Paris-Roubaix. In 2013 in his Roubaix debut, he was at the nose of the race when he collided with a photographer late in the race, knocking him out of contention before managing to finish sixth. In 2014, he finished fifth in the lead group behind Terpstra, and last year, only Giant – Alpecin’s John Degenkolb could beat him.
Last year, Stybar was second at E3 Harelbeke and ninth at Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders), a career best at the Belgian monument.
“Those are the races I am dreaming of,” Stybar said. “That’s why I am working so hard. That’s why I love racing on the cobbles. Those are the mythical races of our sport, and I hope to add a Roubaix and a Flanders to my palmares some day.”
Last year, Boonen was out of the frame due to injury, leaving Terpstra and Stybar to carry the load. Etixx didn’t win a major classic, and simply being protagonists isn’t enough on a team with such heritage and pressure to win on home roads.
Boonen is back, perhaps for his last run across the cobbles, but even Boonen said everyone is committed to the team strategy at Etixx. Boonen will certainly take his chance if he feels like he has the legs to follow the likes of Fabian Cancellara (Trek – Segafredo) and Peter Sagan (Tinkoff). Behind him, Stybar will be rearing to go.
A big win in stage 2 of Tirreno-Adriatico and a runner-up to Cancellara at Strade Bianche bodes well for Stybar’s form coming into the critical classics season.
“I’m stronger and more experienced,” Stybar said. “I have one more year under my belt. I’ve been training well. I can’t wait for those big races.”
The fourth time could be a charm for Stybar at Roubaix.